Gray, for a Change of Pace
Stepping down into the living room of my new client, I was met by an open view to an expanse of suburban canyon. The space was modern and airy, with a steeply sloped ceiling in half of the room. I thought the white walls seemed a good fit — a fresh coat of a white paint color would freshen up the walls; we’d address the needed furniture updates. But … my client wanted a complete change!
In addition to the light from the long wall of window, light from an adjacent dining area to the right and a french door to a patio on the left, light also flooded the room from a skylight above. With so much light, and the fact that my client wanted a very modern, sophisticated look, I chose a warm medium gray for the walls: Benjamin Moore Himalayan Trek (1542).
The gray wall color was an excellent background for the homeowner’s collection of paintings, some quite large. The gray tied the various artworks together in a way that the white wall color did not. For the foyer I chose a deeply rich tone to accentuate the artwork displayed in the entry area, and to add drama to the space. The entry wall color: Sherwin-Williams Spalding Gray (SW 6074), a deep taupe with burgundy undertones.
(Photos by Oregon based Larry Stanley.)
Gray for variety
Gray tones, from the almost white to deep taupe, can be a great choice if you’re looking for an alternative to white but you don’t want colorful walls in the space. Gray can’t be beat for creating a serene and calm space. And, as you’ll see, it’s a terrific background for color.
Airy and light-filled rooms, like the room above, can be good places to think about using gray for walls. Deeper in value than white, gray visually brings the room down in size and adds a sense of intimacy. If a room gets too little light gray may be a gloomy choice for some; something to consider. Try out your gray selection first, maybe on an accent wall, to see how you feel about the color.
In this expansive room a cool gray adds a modern feel, contrasting with the farmhouse look of the space. The wall color is Benjamin Moore Coventry Gray (HC-169).
(Designer: Jean Larette. Image from House Beautiful. Photo by Reed Davis.)
A Backdrop for Color and Wall Art
A wonderful aspect of gray tones is that they work as a great backdrop for wall art. Colorful paintings or prints stand out prominently in contrast to the neutral background. You can see that in the rooms above, and in many images to follow. Colorful furnishings and other accents stand out against a gray background, too.
In the London drawing room of furniture designer Julian Chichester, the bright red in the 19th-century portrait stands out against the gray wall.
(Image from Elle Decor. Photo credit not supplied.)
An accent wall in pale gray is a soft background for the subtle blues and greens in a painting by Richard Casey.
(Image from Southern Accents at MyHomeIdeas. Photo: Jeff McNamara.)
Russian designer and architect Dmitry Velikovsky toned down the walls in his Moscow apartment by using gray. Colorful art and furnishings add plenty of lively color to the room, shown in two views:
(Images from Architectural Digest. Photographer: Tim Beddow.)
Architect Adam Rolston used a gray wall color in his home in Columbia County, New York. Gray is a background for a wall of art in the master bedroom.
(Image from Elle Decor. Photo by Joshua McHugh.)
Gray Walls for Intimate Spaces
Gray can be used to create an intimate mood in a smaller room. A meditative, contemplative color, it can be perfect for a library. Gray can create a cocoon-like space for a bedroom. Use it for a room with a rustic ambiance.
Notice again, in these smaller spaces, how effective the neutral gray tones are for displaying wall art.
New York designer Eric Cohler has embraced gray as a wall color. Quoted at Elle Decor “Gray is my new must-have, grounded neutral…Almost any shade of gray will transcend the traditional, adding freshness. It’s the perfect masculine-feminine combination to use in a room.” In this room the walls are blue-gray (Farrow & Ball Parma Gray) highlighting the colors in the painting.
The bedroom below, designed by the homeowner, has deep, rich taupe walls, creating an intimate mood. The warm wood tones contrast subtly, as does the artwork. Brightly hued flowers pop against the wall color. The white of the bed linens add needed lightness. With walls so subdued, crisp white elements, like bed linens or upholstery, are needed to keep a space lively and upbeat.
(Room photographer: Fernando Bengoechea.)
The walls in the library of designer Christopher Knight are covered in linen in a ‘greige’ color (‘greige’ is typically used to describe a color that’s between gray and beige). The look is urbane, yet casual and friendly.
(Photographer: Miguel Flores-Vianna. The above three images are from Elle Decor.)
Gray as a Backdrop for White
Room schemes with pale gray walls, and predominantly all white furnishings, are calm in mood; soft, even feminine, in ambiance. With little color, these rooms depend on variety in elements like texture and shape; sometimes pattern adds the interest.
In a Los Angeles Times review of “Mary McDonald Interiors”, it was noted that the designer wished to create something “soothing, feminine and very Christian Dior” in the master bedroom of her West Hollywood house. Clearly, gray, combined with white, can create a look of femininity.
(Photo by Melanie Acevedo.)
Designer Stephen Sills used a pale gray for the walls in the sitting room of a New York city apartment. The sofa and chairs are slipcovered in crisp white linen.
(Image from Architectural Digest. Photographer: François Halard.)
Deeply-toned gray walls contrast with white furnishings in the formally appointed living room of Christopher Knight (director of Maison Gerard gallery in New York). The wall paint color is Farrow & Ball Pigeon.
(Image from Elle Decor. Photo by Miguel Flores-Vianna.)
Designer Betsy Brown used Benjamin Moore’s Rockport Gray (HC-105) to create a quite and calm bedroom. Rooms in neutrals need, the designer notes, “…something stark and shiny white. You have to interject elements that add intense personality.” The shapely chair in white and the ikat patterned pillow add that touch of personality to the room.
(The wall color in the photo looks lighter than the actually paint color. Image from House Beautiful. Photo: William Abranowicz.)
Gray for Dining
The dining areas below, with gray walls and golden or orange accents, show the personality possibilities of mixing gray with these bright hues.
Gray is a go-to color for a chic contemporary look. Architect Adam Rolston used gray walls throughout the home he designed for himself and his partner. The golden wood tones of the architectonic (and homemade) pine dining table contrast against the gray wall.
(Image from Elle Decor. Photo: Joshua McHugh.)
Designer Mary Evelyn McKee uses the gray and gold combination in a dining room that has a mix of formality and fun. The double tiered chandelier and the chair skirts add quirky charm.
(Image from Southern Accents at MyHomeIdeas. Photo: Tria Giovan.)
This dining room, soothing with gray walls, gets a color boost from the red-orange in the striped rug. Antique iron chairs and rustic trestle table add character.
(Image from Southern Living at MyHomeIdeas. Photo: Laurey W. Glenn.)
Gray and gold is a palette that’s fresh and chic, at times with a particularly enchanting quality. See more rooms that combine gray with yellow or gold at my previous post Color Scheme Gray and Yellow.
Nuances of Gray
Gray wall paints come in values from airy light tints to deep charcoals, and are typically either warm or cool. An array of nuanced color undertones provide the variations in gray paint colors. Depending on color, undertones will show more apparently on a wall than others. Always be sure to try a sample of the color on your walls. Since light from outside sources strikes walls differently, try the sample on all walls where you plan to use the color; you don’t want any surprises. (Always paint on a white background as colors affect other colors: see this at my post The Changing Nature of Color.) Here are a few sample gray paint colors from light to dark; you can see the nuances in undertones.
Top row: Sherwin-Williams Mindful Gray SW 7016, and Silver Strand SW 7057. Benjamin Moore Graytint 1611.
Bottom row: Benjamin Moore Misty Gray 2124-60. Dunn Edwards & California Paints Faded Gray DEW 382, and Formal Gray DE6382.
Wallpaper — Another Way with Gray
Wallpaper patterns in gray provide the soft look of gray.
In this country-style bedroom the wallpaper is Silvergate in Grisaille from Farrow & Ball. Accents of pink, cream, and pale blue add a hint of color.
(Image from Country Living.)
In his Newport Beach, California, home, designer Barclay Butera has used a wallpaper with a gray pattern as a background in various rooms, including this airy dining room.
(Image from Traditional Home. Photo: James Carriere. Wallpaper source was not provided.)
For a few wall mural-like ideas see this post at A Perfect Gray.
Elegant Ways with Gray
Gray can be the most elegant of wall colors. Dallas-based designer Jan Showers has used gray walls in polished and elegant room designs. Two views of one living room are shown below, followed by a delicate sitting area.
(Image from Jan Showers Interior Design.)
Gray is Timeless
Gray at times becomes ‘trendy’, but as a perfect neutral background it’s a timeless choice, ready for you to add color, character, mood, or personality to any space.
One blogger loves gray:
If you love gray, The Perfect Gray is a blog devoted to this neutral, with continuously inspiring images of gray in rooms.